I love flights, flying, airports, all about it. I search for flight deals for fun. I learned more about them over time and it’s in constant change, but some rules do apply. This a short guide to flight hunting, based on my experience.

The last years have been flooded with cheap flights, something you could not think was possible a while ago. With under £300, it’s possible to travel to Far East, South Africa or Central America (from Europe). In 2007, I don’t remember the exact price, but my flight from Bucharest to Malaga was more expensive than that. Nowadays, flights within Europe are cheaper than a train/bus ticket, sounds crazy.

It’s a pity not to take advantage of this and travel anywhere within your budget. As with anything, you don’t know how long it’s going to last. I read a very interesting article by ImperatorTravel (unfortunately only in Romanian). I don’t entirely agree with the predictions, but I believe it’s a good reading on how international events influence the airlines’ industry, and consequently, the prices.

Where do I start my search?

If you plan to just check the prices of a specific flight/route over the time, I would encourage using the Incognito mode of your browser or clear your cookies.

Websites use cookies to identify you [notice welcome back notes, ads, suggestions etc]. It’s still a debate whether this influences the prices you get, but better on the safe side. Also, if you are a group, better not for everybody to look at the same flight, several times, this may be interpreted by the pricing system as an increased demand.

Skyscanner is my favourite search engine, I use it not only to find the cheapest route but also for ideas. You can pick From [your current location] To Everywhere. I think that’s the coolest thing. You can also choose whole month view.

Basically, if you know that you want to travel for a few days in May and you want to spend up to £100 on a flight ticket, with this search engine you get a few ideas of where you could go. It’s also very good at comparing prices for Europe flights.

For long distance flights, especially with multiple legs, I look in Momondo as well. I use it more when following posts on flight deals websites.

Where and when?

Some cities are better connections than others, that’s no secret. If you don’t live close enough to a big city with many flights, it will be by default more expensive to fly. Either because your city has fewer flights, or you will need to buy another ticket to one of the major hubs. Same for the destination, if you aim for a touristy, big city, you will have more flight options. Better to take a flight to a well-known destination and then travel by land to the less known ones. For example, I took a flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, and then travelled by local means all the way to Gili Islands. There were some deals to Bali as well, but just to know there are alternatives. And sometimes, a different journey is more rewarding. If you live in a smaller city, you can fly to bigger cities for connecting flights, and visit both on the way (see open-jaw flights below). This way you don’t feel you waste time/money.

If you look at the monthly view in your search engine, you will notice some months are more expensive, because it’s a good season, a famous festival or anything else that makes it popular for travelling. Memorable mention: Christmas is one of the worst, it’s painful to even look at those exaggerated prices.

Some days of the week are generally more expensive than others, with Tue-Thu being cheaper. Again, no surprise here. You see a great promotion with Ryanair? Do you want to book it right away? Then you go and check the prices and see it’s actually the double price to book it just for the weekend, at reasonable times. An example of how much the day you travel counts.

The moment of the day you travel is important as well. If you travel at the most unsuitable times, then you get the cheapest price, because there is a low demand for it. It’s like the ugly veggies at the market, you pick them if you don’t have a better choice left. And it’s not fair, but well.

When you book the flight may also count. I’ve read about it but personally didn’t look so much into it. I do try to book my flights during weekdays and not on the weekend. This is the same as the website cookies, while is not 100% confirmed, it may count. And from the same bucket, the website/language you use counts. For example, if you search from [your engine] .co.uk or .ru will give you slightly different prices.

Too much searching, can we skip to the deals part?

Well yes, if you don’t like or you don’t have time to search, or simply not very inspired at the moment, there are always flight deals websites which do it for you.

My favourite website ever is SecretFlying, my bible. I can even write a story about how it changed my life. Ok, maybe not my life, but my budget for sure.

I found out about it shortly after I moved to London and I book all my long distance flights taking their posts as suggestions. I look at the posts for the destinations, where they are and what is around, I keep them in mind even if I’m not planning to go there, yet. For example, you want to go to Nicaragua, but there are not frequent posts about it. Instead, there are plenty of them, recurring, to Liberia in Costa Rica, which is a 1h ride from Nicaragua.

Then I look at the dates, which are only suggestions. That means you can always go and play around to see if you get something suitable. Sometimes you get more dates suggestions in comments, from other passionate travellers.

Then I look at the deal type and which website redirects to. The most exciting deals, in my view:

An Open-jaw flight means it starts in a city, but on the way back you land in another city. Example Stockholm – Seoul return Seoul – London. A Double Open-jaw flight means all different cities for the return flight. Example Stockholm – Seoul return Tokyo – London. Not everybody like them, I personally do. The second example is a trip I took less than 2 years ago, for £250, and I loved it. I spent time in each of the cities and saved a lot compared to more direct routes.

If you have a multiple legs flight, if you miss the first or a middle one, the rest of the journey gets cancelled. But you can miss the last one (as there is nothing else to be cancelled). Example, if your flight is Amsterdam – Frankfurt – Johannesburg, and return (assuming your home city is neither of them), you can start your trip in Amsterdam, but on the way back exit in Frankfurt. So you make your version of an Open-jaw flight and enjoy both cities.

Error fares, now this is for the hunters. Sometimes you see posts for really crazy prices. I booked a flight from Europe to Brazil for under £100, but the flight company didn’t honour it. These deals usually look too good to be true and you have to be really fast because they don’t last. The better it is, the faster will disappear. And even if you make it, there are high chances that it will get cancelled. You always get your refund, you don’t lose any money by trying. They are mistakes (errors) and companies try to fix them as soon as they notice. SecretFlying has two very good articles about what causes an Error fare and Fuel Dumping basics. They also had a tool which was later removed from the website. I did use it while it was on and searched for combinations but nothing great came out of it.

Even if you are not so passionate, these articles explain what a flight price is made of and why it can get so cheap. PS: There is no magic involved. Only hard searching.

Another website I like to keep an eye on is Flynous, which has many exotic destinations. I wouldn’t say it’s for cheap flights in general, it’s for the cheapest you can get to some of the most exotic and remote destinations.

HolidayPirates is a very popular website in Europe, not only for flights. It became a bit too commercial for my tastes, but it still has great deals and fast response rate, I recommend it.

Apart from the search engines and deals websites, you always have the airline companies which run their promotions. When they run a big promotion, it will be posted everywhere, but it’s always good to join their loyalty programs and earn points. Learn from my mistake, I booked flights and didn’t join, thinking it’s only once I’m flying with that company. Correct, it was not only once, and I wanted those points!

Because they are big companies, there is little spontaneity. They usually run the same type of promotion, similar prices, around a similar time. This doesn’t mean you should take them for granted, but if you missed one, there is a good chance you will see them again next season. Ryanair, Qatar, KLM/Air France etc have the same promotions over and over again, just have a look at their past ones.

Charter flights companies, like Thomas Cook, Thomson usually sell holiday packages and it’s what they count on. So they will drop prices for last-minute flights, to help fill in the gaps. For Costa Rica, I planned my trip without buying a flight because I knew it will drop one/two weeks before, and it did. They have like a “lowest fare” limit, so you can book your flight when you see it. No need to wait until the very last day, as it won’t get any lower.

And on the contrary, some low-cost airlines tend to increase the prices for last-minute flights, to discourage you to book and mess up their planning. I know Ryanair does it, and you usually get their cheapest flight if you book in advance or following a promotion.

I believe this is pretty much it. You should now be ready to hunt for your dream flights 🙂

Found this useful? Maybe you would like to make your long flight less painful.

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